A clear and present danger. There is no doubt that the actions of Bashir Assad against the people of his country have placed the citizens of Syria in a position of being in a clear and present danger. With over 40,000 Syrians having been killed by the Assad regime, the population has every right to distrust and despise their government. Neighboring countries including Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel have had stray bombs landing in their territory, putting troops from each of these countries on a defensive footing.
Then today, we get the news that the Syrian government has gathered the materials necessary to activate Sarin gas and would have to utilize that activated gas within a short window of time if it was to remain at it's most potency level. Immediately, the problem has escalated from a Syrian Civil War to a potentially disastrous Middle Eastern conflagration. There are a few issues that the use of chemical weapons immediately brings up for all of Syria's neighbors.
- the toxicity level of Sarin is off the chart. This is a deadly weapon of mass destruction that is designed to kill large numbers of individuals at one time.
- the use of Sarin would be clear proof that the conflict in Syria is no longer a civil war but an attempt at the genocide of groups of Syrian people. It will kill women and children as well as adult fighters.
- Sarin will not stop at the borders of Syria. Everyone of Syria's neighbors has a civilian population that is immediately put into danger once there is an active Sarin arsenal. Attacks on border villages and towns in Syria may well lead to collateral damage in neighboring countries.
- pre-emptive attacks on the Sarin manufacturing areas may be impossible. Activated sarin may devastate a wide geographic area and cause many casualties if released during a military assault.
For neither the entrenched leadership in the Middle East nor the participants in the rising of the Arab Spring was this Syrian scenario played out. Syria, as unhappy as other countries may have been with Assad, was a rational player in Middle Eastern politics. Assad could be relied upon to help spout the Arab party line of anti-Israel rhetoric. He was a solid voice for the return of the Golan Heights to Syrian control. He may have been a despot, but he toed the party line. But now he is killing his own people by the thousands and threatens to have other arabs die by his hand.
There is an interesting realigning of thought occurring within the Middle Eastern world. It is a process that has occurred under the table before, careful meetings under dark of night to be certain that no one knew they were talking. But now, because the issue for these countries are so overlapping, cooperation might have to be public.
All one needs to do is look at the countries that border on Syria and a few others that are clear players in what happens in any Syrian showdown. Syria shares borders with Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. They are very close to the borders of the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. If these interests are strong enough, a temporary alliance of the six Islamic countries, Israel and the United States would be advantageous to all. In fact, a coalition of this nature could, immediately, defang the cobra which is Syria. Assad would be facing an alliance that had him immediately surrounded and effectively cut off from the new world.
From this, two great benefits could accrue. We establish the Middle East as a chemical weapon free zone. But even more importantly, we would have had Arabs and Israelis sitting at the same table, giving each other orders, and finding out that each of them were human with similar needs and desires. If that isn't a basis for beginning peace negotiations, nothing will be.
Maybe we can truly find out that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend". This could be a crisis that throws us both lemons and sweetener. It would be good if we can come out of this with lemonade.